Employee Appreciation Day celebrates its 25th anniversary today, and all across the U.S., Canada and the U.K., employees will likely be invited into conference rooms and cafeterias to be told how much their efforts are valued by their companies (possibly through pizza or desserts). Is this really the best way to celebrate employees’ investment of time, energy and skill? Depending on the company, these efforts are sometimes an inauthentic “check-the-box” activity from senior leaders that employees must politely endure.
If your company is only formally appreciating your employees one day a year, your company (and by extension, your customers and broader community) is missing out on a huge opportunity. To unlock the compounding benefits that result from employees feeling seen, heard and valued, senior leaders need to create a culture of continuous appreciation. But this doesn’t mean leaders are off the hook for also creating the conditions for employees to be challenged, grow and thrive.
Pizza parties are great, but they’re not enough. A culture of appreciation is about valuing individuals as human beings, while acknowledging their impact on the business and their intention to grow and have impact, which is especially important when they fail.
My community of fellow HR executives share stories with me that prove that even when their companies’ methods of appreciation miss the mark, if they’ve proven themselves to be a “culture first” organization, their overtures of appreciation are received as heartfelt, sincere and a step in the right direction.
So, where do you start? Here are my five principles for appreciating your employees:
- Live your company values. Leaders need to continually reflect their company values in the way they conduct themselves and model behavior; it’s the fastest mechanism to cascading those behaviors throughout the rest of the organization.
- Amplify others. To foster a culture of employee appreciation, the most important thing a person can do is show gratitude for someone else’s work as well as how they elevate others to reach the desired goal.
- Celebrate effort and intention, not just outcomes. An idea that bears fruit should be rightly celebrated, but so should failures if the motivations and intent were on target. This requires managers to take a “long view” of their talent teams, to engender open and collaborative relationships where they can encourage innovation and experimentation.
- Offer rewards that are meaningful and inclusive. It’s no good giving basketball tickets to someone with no interest in the game. Likewise, taking the team out for drinks after work can exclude people who avoid alcohol. A thoughtful leader takes the time to get to know members of their team and reward them in ways that will be personally meaningful. In most instances, what employees really want is an acknowledgment of their efforts.
- Listen and take action. This is the game changer. Collecting feedback and creating the space for meaningful dialogue about it is the No. 1 way managers can show they value their teams. If employees feel heard and can participate in the conversation, a continuous cultural improvement cycle can be established.
Employee appreciation will look different in every workplace because each work culture is different. But let’s not forget, human beings are human beings. Everyone I’ve ever met has wanted to be seen, heard and appreciated for who they are. Scaling appreciation in a complex organization can be challenging, but it can also be quite simple. Simply saying “thank you”–genuinely–is a good start.
A company’s culture is one of its most powerful assets. A culture that embeds appreciation at its core will foster a happy, engaged and productive workforce that feels empowered to reach for ambitious goals, empowered by the knowledge they are supported and heard by the organization.